The show started about on time with ETHEL doing five songs from the 70's. I remember ETHEL's set from the '05 tour and expected them to be a little more up-tempo than they were last night. A couple of arrangements were slow and simple but the Herbie Hancock Watermelon tune and their rendition of Zep's Kashmir really stood out. Solid set but a bit on the mellow side for me.
Todd then appeared for his solo set. He said he thought this was his first time he played "Nerk" but I was told he played this theater before on the Johnson tour. He started with "LOTCM" then played a stark version of "Beloved Infidel." Todd told us after Infidel that this is as political as he's going to get but he did make some comments later in the show about getting out to vote and not let Mitt win without naming any names. He moved to the grand piano for "Hello It's Me" and "Song of the Viking." I'm not sure why but he really struggled on Hello. It was a cringe-worthy moment. I don't mind the flubs at all but you always like to see Todd on his A game when performing in front of non-fans. He didn't at that moment but was back on track shortly thereafter. The surprise of Todd's set was "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away." I remember him playing that on the '05 tour so it seemed appropriate to bring it out again. "Bang The Uke" was a crowd-pleaser and he wrapped the set up with "One World." Good but not great set.
After about a 20 minute intermission, Todd and ETHEL started their combined set with "Soul Brother" which seemed like an odd placement to me. I was expecting Flamingo/Zen Archer but they moved to those songs right after Soul. It seems that Todd is playing most of the same songs from night to night but is mixing up the order a bit. "Courage", "Mercenary", "Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song" and "Black Maria" (show closer) were all great renditions but there were a few other stand-out moments for me. The first was a very fun version of "Mah Na Mah Na" or probably better known as the Muppet's theme song. It was a cute interpretation including some impressive scat by Todd. The other stand-out was a really cool string arrangement of "I Saw The Light." I'm admittedly bored with that song in general but this arrangement was unique and refreshing. The show ended with encores of a beautiful version of "Pretending to Care" and "Stood Up" which is always a treat.
The sound quality in the theater was superb and the crowd was respectfully quiet during the softer moments of the show. There was one technical glitch in which Todd's tablet stopped working on "Courage" to the point where he had to stop the show and have a couple of techs rig it back up with duct tape. Todd was a little frustrated by it but one of the ETHEL members acted quickly and chatted with the audience while it was being worked out. I'd also seen that some shows had Q&A sessions but there wasn't any of that at this show.
I made the two hour drive to see this show because I like seeing Todd in unique formats like this. Is a show like this going to convert fans, provide a lot of wow moments or get you on your feet? Probably not. Was it entertaining? Absolutely. It was a nice evening of good music, some fun moments in a beautiful venue with a small but appreciative crowd. For those of us who have not seen an orchestra show yet, this was a very nice alternative.